… we shall see him as he is… 1 John 3:2
Just seven little words, snatched from a tiny passage (verses 1-3) – a passage which is one of the richest, most comforting and most challenging in the whole New Testament.
We shall see him as he is. I must have read those words hundreds of times in my Christian life, but, to my shame, it was only quite recently that their full impact dawned on me. One day I will see Jesus!
Most of us, reading those great Bible stories where men or women are suddenly confronted by the sheerly supernatural, have felt, perhaps, a little envious. Why have I never had such an experience?
Moses at the burning bush… Isaiah in the temple… Mary visited by the angel… the disciples watching Jesus walking on the water and stilling the storm… Peter, James and John on the mountain of transfiguration… Mary Magdalene in the garden of resurrection… Paul “caught up to the third heaven”… John on Patmos falling “as though dead” at the feet of the risen Christ…
What stories these are! They make the spiritual experience of most of us – our daily “quiet time” and our humdrum efforts to walk by faith – seem pretty anaemic.
But John here tells us that one day such an experience will indeed be ours.
I wonder what it will be like? “Wait and see!” is probably the best answer to that question. But it’s hard not to try and imagine it.
I once attended a service in St Paul’s Cathedral when the Queen was present. There we were, a large crowd of people, and of course everyone wanted to see her (whether they also wanted to worship God – well, it’s not for me to judge on that…). Now the Queen is really quite short, and you couldn’t help but notice how everyone seemed to be craning their neck to catch a glimpse of her as she processed down the aisle.
Will it be like that when we get to heaven? “Oh, look, there he is, just to the right of those angels…!” or “He’s so different from what I imagined!”
Er, no, I don’t think so. “We will see his face” suggests something much more intimate.
Will it be frightening? Perhaps “Yes and no” is the best answer. Certainly it will be awesome – using that word in its literal meaning: that we will be awestruck. Some of the experiences in the Bible that I mentioned earlier were like that. And how could that not be the case? Can mortal human beings look on the face of God and not be overwhelmed?
But not frightening in a bad sense, surely. No, infinitely wonderful, comforting and fulfilling: after all, this, deep down, is what we have spent our lives waiting for, even when we weren’t particularly conscious of doing so.
In the Narnia stories C S Lewis’ child heroes find Aslan the lion to be both disturbingly strange and gloriously tender. So, perhaps, it will be for us.
I don’t know if all the doubts and questionings that trouble us in this earthly life will be immediately resolved; but I’m pretty sure they just won’t matter any more. And I’m also sure that all the pains and sorrows, all the hurts and wounds, will be gone for ever. Indeed, this is explicitly stated in Revelation 21:4: God “will wipe every tear from their eyes (yes! isn’t he our father!). There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain…”
And, of course, no more sin. Just think of that…
Mind you, it seems that not every memory of our earthly existence will be blotted out. Even the glorified body of Jesus will still have the nail-holes in his hands and feet, and the sword-thrust in his side: he will appear to us, we are told, like “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain” (Revelation 5:6).
Just speculation? Perhaps so. But it needn’t be idle speculation – for shouldn’t thinking like this make a difference to the kind of people we are now, and the way we live our lives now? John himself makes this point in the very next verse: “All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”
Yes. If this kind of speculation doesn’t make us better people – more Christlike people – then something, surely, is seriously wrong.
Lord God, help me to live this earthly life like one who will one day look into the perfectly holy face of Jesus. Amen.
If you aren’t familiar with the Bible stories I mentioned earlier, here’s where to find them…
2 Corinthians 12.
Why not take half an hour to read them through?